The Enemy Without and Within

Linked with Suzanne Pharr – USA.

Published on Public Eye.com, by Suzanne Pharr, 1995.

When the decision to acquit the cops who brutally beat Rodney King was announced and people began burning their communities and attacking each other, I thought to myself, the right wing is achieving its goal to divide and conquer us as a people …

… We must begin a process of doing what we jokingly call “getting over ourselves” so that we can develop a vision and leadership that brings us together. This means that we will have to stop shouting, “Me, me!” and learn to harmonize on “Us, us.” Developing the politics of inclusion will not be easy because we have many barriers to overcome and because we have no model for it. But I am convinced that this is the only road to both survival and liberation.

The Christian Right, on the other hand, has an easier time in creating its politics of exclusion. Recognizing that most people are disturbed by the social and political chaos in the US, they offer us a vision of the past. They ask us to look in the rear view mirror to the 1940s and 1950s, when white soldiers returned from the war with the G. I. Bill to go to school, finding jobs plentiful and housing available, and there was a sense of stability and order. What they call for, of course, is a racist, sexist, and homophobic vision, for this was a time of legalized segregation, when male authority was unchallenged by women, abortion was illegal, and lesbians and gay men were invisible. They speak of this as the time of “traditional family values.”

For many of us, it was the time of family horrors, when rape, battering, incest, and alcoholism were kept as secrets within the family. Nevertheless, the Christian Right is able to unite frightened and uninformed people in a nostalgia for the past–when social order and benefits for the few were bought at the expense of women, people of color, lesbians, and gay men.

Our vision of inclusion is built on the future, not the past; we are creating that which has not been before. If we can understand that the right uses divisiveness to destroy our vision of inclusion, then we can learn that our most effective work of resistance and liberation is to make connections, both politically and personally. Making true connections may be the most cutting edge work for the 1990s.

I have seen this work taking place in rural Oregon communities this spring where people are coming together to talk about claiming their communities. Lesbians and gay men, people of color, feminists, ministers, social workers, labor unionists, domestic violence workers, blue-collar workers, etc., are gathering in common cause to say to each other that this attack by the Christian Right against the lesbian and gay community is actually a fundamental threat to democracy that affects everyone. These rural Oregonians are sick of the Christian Right framing the issues and controlling the public debate for the past two decades. It is clear to them from looking at their school boards, for example, that the right has infiltrated deeply into their communities, and they are scared. Instead of allowing the right to create the rules of community life and to determine who gets to participate, these community people want to work together for a common vision that includes everyone. This means that people who have traditionally had little to do with each other are now sitting side by side and learning about each other’s lives. This process gives me great hope. I think people are hungry for true information and for a way to work together for justice in every community.

While many progressive people agree that we must work against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc., I’m not sure that we always understand how intricately these oppressions are linked and how deeply they are connected to our very survival. For instance, do white lesbians and gay men truly understand that fighting against racism is key to our freedom? As we pursue liberation, we will have to build politics of connection from those glimpses we get of our shared destiny with other oppressed people.

Sometimes I feel our work is like celestial navigation. Before directional instruments were invented, sailors navigated the seas by fixing their compass on the North Star; however, if they fixed on the wrong star, then everything thereafter was off course. We are working against years of a society fixing on the wrong star. This nation has built all its institutions and policies from the starting point of a fundamental lie: that certain groups of people are inferior to others and hence should be subordinated to them. Every direction taken from this fundamental lie puts us off course, and group after group gets lost. If one begins with the lie that people of color are inferior to white people, then it makes equal sense that women are inferior to men. And so it goes. It is our work to fix upon the truth: that all people are of equal worth and deserve justice.

We must do this work as though our lives depend on it. Because they do–all of them, no matter what sex or race or sexual identity or class. There must be justice for all of us or there will be peace for none. (full long text).

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